When it comes to dating, most of us worry about the wrong things: "Will he laugh at my jokes? Be impressed by my job? Notice that my bangs are doing that weird flip?" The result: our attempt to make a good impression frequently backfires. After all, who wants to be around such a wreck? Fortunately Lynn Harris, author of Breakup Girl to the Rescue! A Superhero's Guide to Love and Lack Thereof (Back Bay, 2000), says that anyone can become a champion dater: it just takes a simple attitude shift. "Being good at dating isn't about impressing men," says Harris. "It's about coming up with ways to make it more enjoyable for you. If you're having a good time, then you'll be a good date."
1. Do something that you'd enjoy — with or without your dream date. If there's a movie that you've been dying to see, a new restaurant that you're curious to try, or a museum exhibit that you want to check out, a date is a great excuse to get yourself there. "If you do something you've always wanted to do anyway, then you can't lose. And it will make you a better date because you're having fun," says Harris.
2. Engage your body, as well as your mind. If the thought of coming up with several hours of conversation with a new man gives you hives, suggest a sporty activity like bowling, pool, or even just going for a walk. If you're shooting darts or playing a video game, you won't feel the pressure to keep up a nonstop conversation. Plus, you'll have some natural opportunities to flirt — with good-natured competition and gentle teasing, for example. But, says Harris, "Don't pick anything that puts you on the spot or challenges you. Don't make it the first time you go bungee-jumping."
3. Go with the flow. OK, so maybe the waiter is snotty, the chicken rubbery, and the table affords a grand view of the kitchen. Many mishaps happen on dates, but you'll make a far better impression if you simply roll with the punches than if you demonstrate your ability to discern a sub-par wine. "You're not severely compromising your principles if you don't speak out about mediocre service. It's not like you're nodding along and pretending you agree with racist opinions. You're just sucking it up and eating a lukewarm enchilada," says Harris.
4. Date as many men as possible. Once upon a time, a person had to rely on fate to get a date -- you needed to go to a party, or a meet someone at work, or find friends to fix you up. The Internet has changed all that. Now anyone with access to a computer can line up a full schedule of dates in no time. Sure, you want to be picky -- dating too many men can make you feel jaded and exhausted. But by subscribing to a dating service, and by going out with a lot of men, you'll naturally become more comfortable with the process. You'll also find that you'll lower the stakes. When you go out with a different man every week, you won't feel the pressure for each one to be the love of your life. So Scott didn't work out? Big deal -- you're seeing Brad next week.
5. Ask the questions he'll love to answer. What do you ask after you ask what he does for a living? Harris suggests asking him these knock-out follow-ups: "What are the questions people most ask you about your job? What are the most annoying questions? What are the ones you wish they'd ask?" Open-ended questions like "What made you decide to become an accountant?" or "What brought you to Chicago?" can help bring the conversation to a deeper level. However, Harris advises against contrived questions. "Don't ask 'Would you rather be a cloud or a grape?' It puts people on the spot and makes them feel like you're waiting for a certain answer," she says. You also want to avoid job-interview questions like "Where do you see yourself in five years?" The point is to make him feel comfortable, not put to the test.
6. Give yourself "good-date karma." No matter how dismal a date is, always be polite and always stick it out until the end. After all, you don't want to get a reputation of being someone who mistreats men. "You never know -- he might have friends," says Harris. "And you might think, 'Well, he's a geek. Why would I like his friends?' But haven't you dated guys that you loved but hated his friends? It could work the other way too. There is such a thing as floating dating karma. If you're a good date, good dates will come to you in a nonlinear way."
7. Check your bill-paying etiquette. It's fine to split the bill, but don't whip out a calculator and tell him he owes more because he had the soup. It's also fine to let him pay -- you can always pay on the next date. However, you should never expect him to pay.
8. Leave your troubles behind. A first or second date is not the time to discuss your cheating ex-boyfriend, your alcoholic mother, or your psychotic boss. You don't have to whitewash your life, but you can be honest and self-deprecating without plunging into the darkest depths of your soul. "Telling the truth and complaining are different things. If you're miserable in your job and hate going every day, then that's not a good conversation. But if you say, 'Here's what's bothering me in my job, and here's what I want to do about it,' that is," says Harris.
9. Stay informed. If you've got a big date coming up, make a point to stay in tune with national events -- it will give you something to talk about after you've told each other how many brothers and sisters you have. "It's not that you have to study for your date -- if you never read the paper, you don't have to read every article in the business section -- but don't let this be the day you don't read the paper," says Harris. "You don't want to miss out on what could be a great conversation."
10. Wear something he'll love to touch. Skin-tight jeans, too-short skirts, and spilling cleavage can send a message that you're trying too hard, but a soft angora sweater or velvet tank top will make him yearn to come close. Harris says that on one of her first dates with her boyfriend she wore an angora sweater with velvet jeans. "He asked me if I deliberately wore something he'd be dying to touch," she said. "I told him that's exactly what I did."
Learn how to avoid first date blunders: